The Saskatchewan Rush are one win away from claiming their third National Lacrosse League championship, and they can make it happen in Game 2 of the 2018 NLL Cup Final.
Saskatchewan jumped out to the 1-0 series lead last Saturday in Saskatoon, utilizing a seven-goal run that included a natural hat trick from Robert Church to notch a 16-9 win over the Rochester Knighthawks. The Knighthawks now host Game 2 and will be looking to force the series to a third and deciding matchup back in Saskatchewan on June 9.
The Rush’s victory in Game 1 quickly erased the memories of two losses to the Knighthawks during the regular season. Trailing 4-3, the Rush got their offence ignited by Church’s natural hat trick that came in total of 3:03 and featured a brilliant individual effort for a game-tying shorthanded marker. Saskatchewan added to their 6-4 halftime lead with four straight goals in 3:39 to open the third quarter, and that seven-goal run was something the Knighthawks could never recover from.
Rochester closed the gap to four goals once in the third and twice in the fourth but the visitors were finished for good when Rush defencemen Matt Hossack and Mike Messenger scored 36 seconds apart in the final stanza.
Ryan Keenan notched a hat trick while Ben McIntosh and Jeff Cornwall each scored twice for the Rush with singles being added by Mark Matthews, Marty Dinsdale, and Jeremy Thompson. Evan Kirk, who made a number of sensational saves in the first half, finished with 35 stops.
The NLL Cup matchup brings together two teams that have won five of the last six league titles. Rochester has a total of four NLL titles and are the only team to win three consecutive championships when they were crowned champs in 2012, 2013, and 2014. In 2012, the Knighthawks faced the Rush for the Cup and battled back from a 5-1 deficit at halftime to beat the Rush 9-6.
The Knighthawks’ reign came to an end the following season which also marked the start of the Rush’s two-year run atop the NLL as they won the Cup in 2015 and 2016. Rochester’s other championship was earned in 2007, and the Knighthawks also lost in the final in 1999, 2000, and 2003.
Rochester was the only team in the NLL to beat Saskatchewan twice this season, and in the process snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Rush. The Knighthawks had not beaten the Rush in any meeting since the 2012 Cup Final. On their home turf, the Knighthawks outscored the Rush 5-2 in the fourth quarter to register a 16-11 victory. Mark Matthews and Ben McIntosh each posted hat tricks in the loss with singles going to Mike Messenger, Robert Church, Ryan Dilks, Ryan Keenan, and Jeremy Thompson. The defeat also brought to an end Saskatchewan’s six-game road winning streak.
Five weeks later, the Knighthawks were able to hold off a late rally by the Rush to rack up a 13-11 win in Saskatoon. Robert Church had four goals for the Rush, while Ben McIntosh had a pair, and Chris Corbeil, Mark Matthews, Jeff Shattler, and Ryan Keenan had one goal apiece.
Saskatchewan handed Rochester two lopsided beatdowns last season, beginning with a 16-8 victory in the Rush’s home-opener. The Rush went 6-for-8 on the power play in that game and got an 11-point effort out of Mark Matthews (4 goals, 7 assists). Robert Church and Ben McIntosh each posted hat tricks with singles going to Chris Corbeil, Ryan Dilks, Ryan Keenan, and Marty Dinsdale.
Three weeks later, the Rush blasted the K-Hawks 21-12 in Rochester as Robert Church collected 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) and Mark Matthews had a 10-point night (4 goals, 6 assists). Curtis Knight, Adam Jones, Marty Dinsdale and Ben McIntosh each scored twice with Mike Messenger, Chris Corbeil, Ryan Dilks, Adrian Sorichetti and Matt Hossack each adding a goal.
Back in the 2015 season, the Rush blew out the Knighthawks 16-3 which marked the Rush’s largest margin of victory over an opponent. The Rush got out of the blocks fast and led 11-1 at halftime and cruised the rest of the way. In 2014, two wins over the Knighthawks helped the Rush establish their record-setting 14-0 start.
The Rush advanced to this year’s Cup Final thanks to a 15-13 win over the Calgary Roughnecks in the West Division Final last Sunday, while the Knighthawks went on the road and knocked off the defending champion Georgia Swam 9-8 in the East Division Final.